How to Use Smart Albums in Photos for Mac

Keep your photo collection organized automatically

Smart albums are like standard albums, but they stay up to date automatically by the Photos app. They work this way because of the rules you set up to update albums as you add more photos to your collection.

Smart Albums prove helpful if you also use an iPhone to take pictures and iCloud to sync photos across all Apple devices.

This article applies to the Photos app in macOS Big Sur (11.0), macOS Catalina (10.15), and macOS Mojave (10.14).

How to Create a Smart Album on Your Mac

It's easy to create a Smart album using Photos on your Mac.

  1. Select New Smart Album under the File menu in Photos.

    The keyboard shortcut is Option+Command+N.

    New Smart Album in Photos for Mac
  2. Alternatively, click the Plus sign next to My Albums in the side panel and select Smart Album.

    Smart Album option in the My Albums menu in Photos for Mac
  3. Type a name in the Smart Album Name field to help you find it later.

    Smart Album dialogue box in Photos for Mac

How to Set Smart Album Criteria

Once you create Smart Albums, control how photos end up in respective folders based on album conditions. Set criteria for the Smart Album using the three drop-down menus below the album name.

  1. Choose the album category from the first drop-down menu. Photo is the default option. Other choices include Album, Date, Description, Filename, Keyword, Person, Photo, Text, and Title.

    You can also set this item to Aperture, Camera Model, Flash, Focal Length, ISO, Lens, and Shutter Speed.

    First set of Smart Album criteria in Photos for Mac
  2. Define the relationship between the category and conditions for your Smart album from the middle menu. If you chose Photo, the conditional options are is and is not.

    The relationship options change depending on the category. For example, if you chose Dates, the modifiers expand to date-related criteria such as is before and is after.

    Conditions box in a Smart Album
  3. In the last drop-down menu, set the search terms or conditions that the Photo app should use to include or exclude images by album. The options in this field also change depending on the category and relationship.

    For example, if you set Photos as the category and choose from is or is not in the modifier column, your options for the search criteria include everything from photo types (selfies and screenshots) to characteristics such as hidden and marked as a favorite.

    Third menu in Smart Album criteria
  4. Click the Plus sign to add more search filters to albums.

    Adding more search options may pull fewer results or none at all.

  5. When you have multiple search terms, a Match menu appears above the conditions you set. Choose to match any or all of the criteria.

    Smart Album search filters for album matches in the Photos app

    As you create search criteria, a count appears in the lower-left corner of the window showing how many results the folder will include.

  6. Click the Minus sign to remove a search set.

  7. Click OK to create the Smart Album.

  8. Find your Smart Folder either on the Albums screen or nested under My Albums in the left pane.

    Smart Album from the left pane of the Photos app for Mac

Edit Smart Albums

You can edit Smart Albums once you've created them. Select the album in the sidebar and choose Edit Smart Album under the File menu.

Alternatively, right-click the album in the Albums window or the left pane, and select Edit Smart Album.

Edit Smart Album option in Photos for Mac

The familiar conditions dialog box appears. You can alter or delete the conditions you have set until you get the Smart Album working the way you want it. Click OK to save your changes.

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